Christ­mas tra­di­tions were ev­ery­thing to me as a child. On the first Satur­day in De­cem­ber, my fam­ily and I would pile into our bright blue mini­van and head out to find our Christ­mas tree, the cen­tre­piece of the forth­com­ing fes­tiv­i­ties. Dressed warmly in lay­ers, we’d board the bumpy trac­tor at the tree farm and ride down into the dense, green and white val­ley with other fam­i­lies on the same pur­suit. Weav­ing through end­less snowy path­ways lined with spruce and pine trees, my brother and I would search for the tallest, fullest, and most hand­some one. When we found it—as the older sis­ter, I proved par­tic­u­larly skilled at se­lect­ing the best each year—my dad would crouch down in the snow and saw me­thod­i­cally at the trunk un­til the tree fell. We al­ways yelled tim­ber. (You have to yell tim­ber.) Af­ter­wards, we’d re­treat to the lodge and eat chili out of sty­ro­foam bowls.

Then one year my par­ents brought home a faux tree, abruptly end­ing my favourite an­nual ac­tiv­ity. I cried in my hot choco­late. How could they just aban­don our tra­di­tion? The new syn­thetic tree was skinny and gaudy, a seven-foot depart­ment store atroc­ity with short, bright green nee­dles that looked as phony as this new tra­di­tion felt. I hated it.

But that was just an ado­les­cent girl learn­ing one of life’s hard truths: not all tra­di­tions last for­ever. Some­times they end and it stings, pierc­ing the soul with a sharp prick of empti­ness. And it’s not just hol­i­day tra­di­tions, but ev­ery­day ones, too: Sun­day din­ners that were once the set­ting for up­beat fam­ily ban­ter are now a quiet, twop­er­son af­fair; an an­nual camp­ing trip up north with col­lege pals can­celled due to busy work sched­ules.

Tra­di­tions fiz­zle for so many rea­sons. My fam­ily didn’t sud­denly un­ravel one win­ter, but my brother and I had ba­si­cally out­grown the act, opt­ing to spend time with our friends rather than pile into the fam­ily van for an af­ter­noon with Mom and Dad.

It wasn’t un­til years later that I re­al­ized the other, more pleas­ant half of that les­son: when a tra­di­tion ends, it’s can­on­ized, saved on the mind’s hard drive as a cher­ished mem­ory to be re­played again and again. The tra­di­tion be­comes el­e­vated, placed on a pedestal with a “Re­served for Most Prized Nos­tal­gia” sign hang­ing on it. And also, per­haps even more im­por­tant, is the fact that one tra­di­tion end­ing makes room for a new one. It’s about em­brac­ing changes, and ac­cept­ing the new with wide-open arms.

Nowa­days, my fam­ily takes part in new hol­i­day tra­di­tions, like suit­ing up for a Christ­mas morn­ing run around town, fol­lowed by a wine tast­ing of the best bot­tles my par­ents have col­lected dur­ing their trav­els abroad. And al­though I no longer board that trac­tor on the first Satur­day in De­cem­ber in search of the per­fect pine, the mem­ory re­mains one of the fond­est from my child­hood. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll have my own fam­ily to bun­dle up and bring to the tree farm. But for now, I look for­ward to that glass of Bordeaux, and dis­cov­er­ing each new tra­di­tion as it comes.

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